The Origins Of HAL 9000's Singing Revealed

By Eric Eisenberg 2009-11-06 09:19:15discussion comments
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Though it's not a horror movie, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey still contains some of the scariest stuff I have seen in a film. No, I'm not talking about the giant baby, but rather HAL 9000, the on-board computer system of Spaceship Discovery. Because the film was made in 1968, people didn't know that they were supposed to be afraid of computers yet (Terminator was still a few years away), but HAL taught them all a lesson they would not forget. Backed by the unwavering voice of Douglas Rain and represented by a simple red dot, Anthony Hopkins only wishes he could reach that level of terror.

One of the most iconic scenes in the film, however, is when Dave Bowman has reached the CPU and slowly begins to remove HAL's programming (watch it here). As he reaches the end, HAL resorts back to his earliest data: the song 'Daisy Bell.' The assumption is made by the audience that the song is meant to simply represent ourselves, as the song, much like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or "Old MacDonald," is one of the first things we learn as children. But according to the geeks at Switched, it was actually a tribute to one of the earliest computer devices.

Back in 1961, the folks over at Bell Labs developed the IBM 704, the first singing computer. What song did it sing, you ask? Take a guess. While visiting the labs, author Arthur C. Clarke, prior to writing the novel, was treated to a performance by the singing computer and was no doubt so paralyzed by fear that he felt it necessary to novelize the experience.

Remember how I said that 2001: A Space Odyssey contains some great scares? Well, while Rain delivers an unforgettable performance, it does have a single flaw: the man is human. IBM 704 did not have that drawback. Warning: The video below may be hard to hear over your own blood-curdling screams. Enjoy!




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